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A New York Times Bestseller
Jan and Antonina Zabinski were Polish Christian zookeepers horrified by Nazi racism, who managed to save over three hundred people. Yet their story has fallen between the seams of history.
Drawing on Antonina’s diary and other historical sources, bestselling naturalist Diane Ackerman vividly re-creates Antonina’s life as “the zookeeper’s wife,” responsible for her own family, the zoo animals, and their “guests”: resistance activists and refugee Jews, many of whom Jan had smuggled from the Warsaw Ghetto.
Jan led a cell of saboteurs, and the Zabinski’s young son risked his life carrying food to the guests, while also tending to an eccentric array of creatures in the house (pigs, hare, muskrat, foxes, and more). With hidden people having animal names, and pet animals having human names, it’s a small wonder the zoo’s code name became “The House under a Crazy Star.” Yet there is more to this story than a colorful cast. With her exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, Ackerman explores the role of nature in both kindness and savagery, and she unravels the fascinating and disturbing obsession at the core of Nazism: both a worship of nature and its violation, as humans sought to control the genome of the entire planet.
© 2007 by Diane Ackerman
“Ackerman…makes beautiful work of harrowing tales of [her characters’] determination to keep souls alive, in the actual and metaphorical sense both.”
New York Daily News
“A true story—of human empathy and its opposite—that is simultaneously grave and exuberant, wise and playful.”
Washington Post Book World
“Fresh and compelling…Ackerman has succeeded in a vivid, cinematically written book that’s bound to find its way to the screen.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“An inspiring read…may join Schindler's List and Hotel Rwanda as popular accounts of heroism in the face of genocide.”
Salt Lake Tribune
“This suspenseful, beautifully crafted story deserves a wide readership.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An exemplary work of scholarship and an ‘ecstasy of imagining,’Ackerman’s affecting telling of the heroic Zabinskis’dramatic story illuminates the profound connection between humankind and nature, and celebrates life’s beauty, mystery, and tenacity.”
Booklist (starred review)
“Ackerman has done an invaluable service in bringing a little-known story of heroism and compassion to light. Highly recommended.”